Namco’s Pac-Man in 1980 set arcade’s aflame with its unique and compelling gameplay so it was only a matter of time before others starting hopping onto the maze game bandwagon with their own takes on the formula. In 1981, Alpha Denshi created a game called Crush Roller in Japan, a title that it would carry into Europe. But in North America, where it was distributed by arcade giant, Williams, it would be called Make Trax.
Alpha Denshi hopped onto Pac-Man’s maze making coattails with its own twist. Instead of a yellow protagonist munching dots, you were a paint brush and your mission was to paint all of the pathways while avoiding two very aggressive goldfish that would chase you around. Your only defense were two paint rollers that you could push down certain sections of the maze. That meant that if you wanted to temporarily stop those fish from chasing you, you had to lure them down one of these paths and use the roller to squish them for points. After while, they would return to their aquariums before heading back out along the maze’s many pathways in search of your brush.
There were also wraparound tunnels, like in Pac-Man, where you could duck into in order to get to the opposite side of the map. Unlike Pac-Man, however, the fish didn’t slow down on entering one of these side shortcuts the way the ghosts did in Pac-Man to buy you a few precious slices of time. Your brush also moved pretty slowly and the fish were both incredibly aggressive — they didn’t have different behaviors or made “mistakes” the way that the ghosts would in Pac-Man giving the player more opportunities in sussing out ways around them.
Once a maze was fully painted up, it was time to move onto the next stage with the same maze with a few new challenges. Things could get more difficult thanks to footprints made by a wandering cat, invisible man walking about, or even bird droppings and a loose tire from a car making a mess of your paint job. On the plus side, unlike the fish, you could use your brush to squish these distractions and then paint over the mess they made.
This was definitely one of the more unusual maze game variants to emerge from the arcade but it wasn’t a bad game with a clever challenge backed with amusing sound effects to keep players entertained as they painted their way to victory. Later, it apparently found its way over to the Famicom as an unlicensed game called “Brush Roller” in 1990 according to this entry over at BootlegGames’ wiki complete with a few new tweaks (such as a clock timer), new music, and new title screen. In 1999, it came out for the NEo Geo Pocket Color portable system as Crush Roller, completely retooled for a new generation with new graphics and even a kind of card collection system in place. Bobak! over at mega Neo Geo fan site, Neo-Geo.com, wrote up a review for this version complete with screenshots.
Later in the arcade, Make Trax Turbo introduced a new chip that made your brush move a bit faster which was something of a relief, though having to use two rollers in very specific places on the map to take out two very obsessed fishes didn’t give players a whole lot of options to play with ending more than a few games with frustration than fun. Despite its rough edges, though, it was also easy to see why some players couldn’t keep themselves from painting maze after maze. Make Trax didn’t make as big a splash as Pac-Man, yet it still stood out on its own. In a way, it was almost as if it were the Pu Li Ru La of the maze game genre ten years before Pu Li Ru La arrived for beat ’em ups. Only in this case, it turned players into a magic brush battling fishes, cats, and invisible people.